By Chuck Strouse
By Scott Fishman
By Terrence McCoy
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By Ciara LaVelle, Kat Bein, Carolina Del Busto, and Liz Tracy
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They both yelled "GUN!" and turned to run away as the firing began. Dominguez scrambled to the back yard through the grass. Murphy was still on the patio. Gathering himself, Dominguez turned and fired toward the house.
This was followed by return fire.
After the ringing in his ears stopped, Dominguez could see that Murphy had been hit. He got on the police radio and screamed "3-15! 3-15!"
Pin the tail on the donkey?
Prior to the shooting, Mario Barcia was no stranger to police. His wife's uncle is a policeman. For three years the short, burly man processed requests for marriage dissolution at the county clerk's office, often for law enforcement officers. His work had earned him praise from his colleagues, who say he is an unwavering friend and a supportive co-worker. "Even if he's eating lunch with his wife, he'll drop what he's doing [to help you]," says one colleague who didn't want to be identified but was one of more than a dozen from the clerk's office to show up in support of Barcia during his lengthy bond hearing, which began November 13. Barcia's evaluations also read well: "Mario is a team player"; "Mario is a talented individual with many skills to offer"; "Mr. Barcia contributes positively toward office morale."
Despite Barcia's good reputation with the county, his case has moved with a swiftness that might be expected for a constant offender who had killed an officer. State prosecutor Timothy VanderGiesen has charged Barcia with two counts of attempted first-degree murder of a police officer, which could land him in jail for life. The charges say that Barcia had a "premeditated design to effect the death" of Dominguez and Murphy. Murphy suffered a bruise on his back; his flak jacket saved his life. Dominguez was not injured, aside from minor scrapes and bruises from crawling around the back yard. During Barcia's bond hearing, VanderGiesen alleged that Barcia was so distraught over the August break-in of his home that "he was ready to shoot someone" that night. The prosecutor said Barcia just snapped. "He was going to get payback," VanderGiesen said at the hearing. "He didn't care who it was." On that night, VanderGiesen said, it just so happened it was a cop.
Barcia, who says he thought he was defending his home and his life, was shocked to be treated like a criminal. After speaking to the 911 operator, Barcia slowly opened the door where a dozen officers were waiting. "Put your hands up!" they yelled as he stepped outside the house. "Walk to me! Walk to me!"
A policeman handcuffed Barcia, pushed him into the ground, and stuck a knee into the back of his neck. "You shot a fuckin' cop, you fuckin' asshole!" the policeman repeated over and over.
The officer lifted Barcia, then dragged him to a squad car, where he sat for several hours in the locked vehicle with the windows rolled up and the air conditioning off. During this time period, police did not charge him, read him his rights, or tell him what was happening. One approached only to ask for his signature on a form permitting the police to enter the house. Barcia consented because, he would say later, "I had nothing to hide." Barcia also told him, "I did not mean to shoot the cop. Is he okay? How is he?"
As the sky was turning an early morning purple, Det. Charles McCully drove Barcia to Miami-Dade Police headquarters on NW 92nd Avenue and NW 25th Street and sat him in a cold, windowless interrogation room with three chairs and a table. McCully is a 22-year force veteran and has been a homicide detective since 1988. He's a towering man who, when he testified at the bond hearing, looked like a tired union leader -- horn-rimmed glasses, disheveled hair, blue vintage Seventies sport coat. Armed with only a legal notepad and a pen, McCully spent five hours interviewing Barcia that morning before asking him if he wanted to give a formal statement. (A mix of police officers and detectives interviewed the others who were in the house when the shooting occurred, and a court reporter took their formal statements almost immediately.)
Barcia says McCully began patiently, asking him what he remembered about the incident. But soon this tone changed. McCully would leave the room periodically, becoming more agitated each time he returned. McCully then began asking about Barcia's gun and his past. Why do you carry your gun in your car? Have you applied to be a police officer before? Then the detective would get back to the case. Why did you look out the front window? Why are the officers identifying you as a person who looked out the front window? Barcia got worried, then frustrated. He says he offered to take a polygraph, but the detective replied, "We don't do that." After several hours of repeating his story and his offer to take a polygraph, Barcia exploded. "You're trying to dick me around," he says he told the detective. "You're trying to pin the tail on the donkey. I'm not your donkey. You guys fucked up. You guys came in my house, in my property. You guys fucked up, and you guys are trying to pin this shit on me. When this is all done with -- I'm not going to beat the ride, but I'm going to beat the trial -- I'm gonna sue your ass and everybody else across the way."